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The Moor and the Loch

As I think it not altogether becoming in us moderns to forget the days of yore, allow me now a word or two about the recreations of our fathers, when they sallied forth, falcon on fist, with a gallant troop of retainers.

The aristocratic sport of falconry, though now banished by our deadly guns, has in it something so exhilarating and so gay, that any one who has witnessed it on ever so small a scale cannot wonder that it was once the pastime of the high and mighty of the land.

There are several kinds of falcons and hawks found in Scotland, all of which are capable of being trained, but the former are greatly superior and always preferred. The largest of this kind is the gos-hawk, the young males of which are called falcon-gentils, and were once thought a distinct species. Next in size is the jer-falcon, rather less than the gentil. These are rare in Scotland, although they occasionally build in some parts, particularly in the Northern Islands. All of them can knock down a heron and the largest game, including hares, but the most esteemed and active on wing is the jer-falcon, distinguished above the rest for its ferocity. Of the smaller kinds there is the peregrine, which yearly builds in many of our secluded glens and remote precipes. It is of this species that I have most to say. An old black-cock or pheasant is too strong for them, but they are able to bring down grouse or young black-game. Of the hawk tribe there is the hen-harrier, the male of which is blue, and the female, called the ring-tail, brown - the hobby, the sparrow-hawk, and the kestril; the last mentioned very numerous in some of the islands of Loch Lomond. Nor must I omit the smallest of the hawk tribe, the merlin, not much larger than a thrush, inferior to none in boldness and activity. We have occasionally shot it in Dumbartonshire, and admired the elegance of its diminutive form, which seemed, according to its small proportions, a model of agility and strength.

As none of these hawks, when trained, are much worth for game, one would think their depredations could not be very formidable, but, on the contrary, when at large, and allowed their full sweep of hill and dale, they do much mischief. I once put up a flock of teal which flew out upon the loch, a sparrow-hawk pursued, struck one scarcely a foot from the surface, and, though hardly able to bear its burden, flew with it a considerable way to the shore. I marked the place, and recovered the teal, with half of its head eaten, otherwise uninjured. Last summer, a wild-duck with its young brood haunted a bay of Loch Lomond. They were reduced to a few by a small hawk. My brother saw it pick one up as neatly as possible, and another day the old duck was seen flapping its wings on the surface of the water, and endeavouring to drive off the hawk. The ducklings had all dived, but the first that popped up its head was instantly seized and carried off. The best powers, however, of these little poachers being only exerted on their own behalf, and the nests of the larger falcons being seldom found, the main stay of the falconer is the peregrine.

There is a gamekeeper in Dumbartonshire, who, when a boy, had received some lessons from the late John Anderson of hawking memory, and, having also a natural turn that way, has perhaps as good a knowledge of the art as any one now alive. In a steep crag at the head of Glen-Douglas, a pair of peregrines build every year. The young are always taken by this man to be trained, and the old ones never molested. If great trouble and pains be taken, the young falcons may be fit for flying the first season, and I shall now describe a day's hawking with this keeper, which is a very novel spectacle to any one who has not seen it before, and is always, like coursing, most enjoyed by those ignorant of field-sports.

Early one morning, about the beginning of October, the keeper was on the stubble-field with a couple of peregrines on his fist, and followed by his son, a young lad, with a third bird, and a brace of old steady dogs. The hawks were all hooded and with bells at their feet; the ground was hunted with great caution, and soon the dogs came to a point. The keeper immediately took off the hood from one of the hawks, and threw it into the air. The bird kept flying round in circles, the bells jingling at its feet. The keeper then advanced rapidly towards the dog, and a covey of partridges rose; the hawk instantly stooped down, and for many hundred yards there was a race, the partridges doing their utmost to outstrip the hawk, and the hawk making every exertion to overtake the partridges. At last he began to gain upon them, and when he drew near, made a sudden dash at one, which he seized in his claws, and flew to the ground. The keeper now walked up and secured the falcon, the partridge not being in any way torn or spoilt. Several points were afterwards got, and three more partridges killed; sometimes the partridges escaped, especially if they rose at a distance, and latterly, when the hawks became tired, they were no longer able to overtake them. When the hawk did not kill the bird, there was more difficulty in recovering it; but the keeper said he never lost one. He had a lure, which was a small board, about a foot long and half a foot broad, with some red cloth nailed upon it, on which he usually fed them; he threw this lure into the air, hallooing at the same time, and the falcons coming to it, were secured and hooded. When flown at snipe, the most beautiful aerial evolutions may often be seen, each endeavouring to out-soar the other, until both are nearly lost in the clouds ; but a woodcock, if the ground is clear, makes the best sport of all.

The gamekeeper at Rossdhu harried this same peregrine's nest two years ago, and trained them for a different but very useful purpose. He flew them at carrion-crows, magpies, &c. which they drove into trees, and prevented from leaving until he advanced with his gun and shot them.

So much time and trouble, however, are required both in keeping and training hawks, that it is most likely the days of falconry are for ever gone by.

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